Basalt student reaches for stars via Air Force Academy | AspenTimes.com

Basalt student reaches for stars via Air Force Academy

If Rachel Owen was easily intimidated she wouldn’t be doing what she plans to do after graduation from Basalt High School next month.

Owen will attend the Air Force Academy with the hope of being a fighter pilot and an astronaut. The lofty goals come at a time when there is controversy over the Academy’s response to rape allegations by female cadets, the country is ending a war, and NASA suffered one of its worst disasters.

She’s undaunted. None of those issues nor a recent day of training at the Academy’s campus in Colorado Springs have spooked the Basalt senior from pursuing her dreams. She acknowledged that getting screamed at by cadets on the day designed to give prospects a taste of what to expect tested even the most strong-willed. Fresh recruits are exposed to a lot of pressure to build their character and teach them to be team players.

“I think if you weren’t intimidated you wouldn’t be normal,” Owen said. “But it’s all kind of a mental game. It’s not personal.”

A bigger concern for many female recruits, and their parents, has been the rape scandal. Numerous cadets who attended the Academy over the years have come forward with allegations of sexual assaults and an inadequate response from leaders of the Academy.

“My reaction was to find out more information,” said Owen. She wasn’t satisfied relying solely on news accounts so she contacted female friends who are already attending the Academy to get their perspectives.

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She learned that the full stories hadn’t come out in some of the more well-publicized rape cases. The young women making the accusations often had placed themselves in circumstances that should have been avoided, Owen said.

Her contacts also told her it was important to put the events into perspective. While any case of rape is unacceptable, she noted, the number of incidents at the Academy is lower than at civilian colleges. The coverage of the controversy may have blown the severity of the problem out of proportion, Owen said.

“A lot of the girls I talked to were kind of hurt by what was reported and said,” she said. They felt that the 99 percent of the male cadets who aren’t involved in the cases were also being tarnished.

The bottom line for Owen is that the publicity and increased exposure combined with steps the Academy has taken to prevent future rapes probably make this the safest time ever for a female to attend. Typically between 17 and 20 percent of members in a new class are women.

Owen said she became inspired to try to become an astronaut during her freshman year when she spent two weeks performing research at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. She’s been working toward the goal of entering the Air Force Academy since her sophomore year.

A recommendation from a member of Congress is necessary to get accepted to a military academy so Owen went through interviews last year and was nominated for the Air Force Academy by Rep. Scott McInnis.

Rachel said her parents, Clay and Gloria Owen, were extremely supportive of her pursuits but let her set her own goals and direction.

Owen hopes to finish at Basalt High School with a 4.0 grade point average, unless a current calculus class trips her up. But high school principal Jim Waddick said it wasn’t just Owen’s grades that earned her nomination. He said she has shown incredible energy and dedication to school and community events. For example, Owen helped organize and publicize a recent blood drive at Basalt High School to benefit St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.

During the next four years, Owen hopes to earn good marks at the Academy, become a pilot, then enter graduate school to pursue a master’s degree and possibly a PhD. After all that, she has her sights set on astronaut training.

She said she hasn’t dwelled on the shuttle disaster, figuring risk is inherent in nearly everything. The danger of falling off her horse, for example, hasn’t prevented her from pursuing her passion of barrel racing.

“There are things you just can’t think about,” Owen said.

If her country faces other conflicts like the one winding down in Iraq, she would be ready to serve her country. Enjoying the liberties that come with being an American also requires the responsibility of helping defend them, she said.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.

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